Marking the Earth Observing Dashboard’s One-Year Anniversary with a Hackathon

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage last year, I thought about how NASA could marshal its resources to help benefit people worldwide. We know that Earth observations provide us with a satellite view of our home planet and offer a unique perspective on any number of macro changes happening here on Earth. So together with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), we combined resources to strengthen our understanding of the effects of the global pandemic. As a result, we unveiled the Earth Observing Dashboard in June 2020. I am really proud of this effort because the dashboard offers the public access to an array of COVID-related Earth observation data captured by the three space agencies. It allows anyone to see, from a satellite-view, the effects that COVID-19 is having on our economies, our environment, shipping patterns and more around the globe.

June 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the dashboard’s creation. We thought a great way to commemorate the occasion would be to host a global hackathon and invite participants to tackle challenges related to the intriguing data contained in the dashboard. If you’ve ever been curious about how people’s shopping behaviors changed during COVID, or how the lockdown orders affected carbon dioxide levels or water quality, check out the dashboard. If you’re interested in solving challenges using this data or helping to improve the dashboard itself, we would welcome your participation in the Earth Observation Dashboard Hackathon from June 23-29, 2021.


To give you some examples, the dashboard includes a nighttime lights indicator derived from the Suomi-NPP Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which shows how the pandemic lockdown measures affected businesses, highways, and nightlife by revealing changes in light activity at night by tracking changes in energy use, migration and transportation activity patterns.

Second, when the pandemic impacted the ability of governments to perform in-person field surveys to monitor the progress of food crops, Earth observation-based data used for the Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative (GEOGLAM) Global Crop Monitor provided evidence and reassurance that the food supply was adequate from afar.

Also, some parts of the world are currently experiencing lockdowns due to the second wave of COVID-19. The dashboard shows human activity slowdown (SAR Proxy maps) and a similar environmental response (NO2) to the second lockdown as the first one. Data collected and carefully curated for these waves of COVID-19 periods could provide further insights into environmental responses and economic impacts.

As countries continue to battle COVID-19, I am proud that the dashboard can be a tool that enables people and governments to better understand how the pandemic is affecting our world. I hope that seeing the impacts of COVID from such a vantage point can help spur innovation and spark new ideas. I hope you will join us for the hackathon!

Modernizing Science Websites

More so than ever, our Science Mission Directorate (SMD) websites are the front-door to our worldwide community of enthusiasts and learners. Upon an in-depth analysis of our web presence, I believe it is time for us to elevate the way we communicate and enhance the breadth of our audiences using a focused approach on great content, and best-in-class optimization techniques. As will all of our communication activities, we will do this as one team, and driven by the desire to enhance the impact and inspiration of our science throughout. This is a core-element of our NASA Science strategy, which focuses deliberately on inspiration and communication.

Soon after being established, NASA was directed by the U.S. Congress to “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.” NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has an extensive public web presence, from the flagship website to mission-specific sites to topic-based websites. As sources from which people get their information change, NASA Science must continue to ensure its message is easy to find, available to all, leveraged, and managed per federal and Agency policies and procedures.

For NASA Science, we deeply care about communicating in audience-appropriate language and enabling science enthusiasts and learners of all ages to actively participate in science. Among the several types of opportunities for such engagements are exciting research, student collaborations, challenges, citizen science, science activation projects, and others. Disseminating such information is key and with the expectations for digital content being raised every more, NASA Science must embrace these changes and modernize our web presence to reach the widest possible audience and share our message.

Recently, our social media presence went through a major refresh, with a more focused and aligned effort that resulted in higher followership for these accounts and broader engagement. It has been a great success thus far with enhanced visibility for our project, new audiences we gained as a result of it, and larger user engagements per post than before. And we are still learning to improve and elevate the game. Now, we plan to do the same for our web presence.

As part of an agency-wide modernization and consolidation of NASA websites, SMD will unify its public engagement websites under a newly designed and freshly built, consistent with social themes. Sites in scope of this effort include those with the extension * in their URL which are mostly funded by SMD. Types of websites include public engagement deep dive sites, programmatic sites, and science sites for kids.  Websites that are not part of this current consolidation include those sites whose main purpose is to serve data to the science community (we will address these at a later date), sites that are hosted at partner institutions (i.e., and sites where SMD is just one of the funding sources. This strategic approach will enhance user experience and allow NASA Science and its broad impact on society to be seen and appreciated by more. The main goals will be to:

  • be an example of excellence in public trust in science exploration, discovery, and knowledge
  • timely, secure, accurate, and audience-focused dissemination of NASA Science content
  • ensure that top entities – person, place, thing – never compete with each other, but instead enhance each other
  • ensure site owners have a robust platform and tools they need to innovate and share development using a “One Team” approach
  • improve search rankings and search engine optimization (SEO)
  • build a robust multimedia database capable of housing all the media NASA Science produces, including spacecraft raw images, data-driven interactives and large-file videos.
  • ensure the site is responsive and functions well on devices of varying sizes (i.e. cell phone, tablet, laptops, desktop, and what may show up next as technology changes)
  • design a site that exceeds the Section 508 requirements and provides a truly accessible experience for the widest audience possible

Rest assured, there will be flexibility built into this process. In particular, we want to encourage content owners to pitch new tools, content, etc., and build them out on, as appropriate. We need all of our experts and our engaged champions to help shape the end state.

Soon, you will see these efforts taking shape across our websites – we do not want to drag this out. We recognize, of course, that this process will take significant effort and will take many months to complete. As we proceed, remember that having great content is an important starting point of a great site. However, equally important is ensuring people can find our content.

As mentioned before, this SMD-wide effort has one sole purpose – we all deeply care about communicating the value and excitement of science, and to do so by setting a new standard of excellence for science websites. And we can only be successful achieving this audacious goal by working together as one team!

Thanks for being part of this worthwhile effort!